The Ominous Octopus

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ebony, Buckwheat, and Bumbazine

In Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT, Ebony White is the hero's kid sidekick,  who assists him in his adventures.
Ebony was a stereotyped comedy character and was frequently used as comedy relief in the stories. 

The Spirit sometimes mistreated his sidekick, subjecting him to violence in one story which was supposed to be funny*. The character's complaints of not being treated fairly were also supposed to be funny.

Ebony was sometimes shown with a group of white kids, which resembled "Our Gang" somewhat.

Ebony may have been influenced if not inspired by Our Gang's "Buckwheat", who was played by William Thomas. Buckwheat also appeared in the comic book adventures of Our Gang, which were originally done by Walt Kelly.**

 Today Walt Kelly is best known for his comic strip POGO, a tale of anthropomorphic animals set in the south. What is not so well known is that these comics originally included a character who was similar to Buckwheat, and who could even be considered a later version of the character that Kelly had been drawing in OUR GANG.

Here the character was called Bumbazine. Bumbazine was the only important human character in these stories ( sometimes the only human character to put in an appearance ).  It could be said that the early POGO was something like a different version of OUR GANG, with funny animals in place of the other kids.

Bumbazine was eventually dropped from the stories and the cast of POGO then consisted entirely of funny animals.

The way that the old artists depicted black people in their comics is frowned upon today, but it's been said that during his period on OUR GANG comics Walt Kelly thought that later on he improved the character of Buckwheat and made him less of a stereotype. While I am not familiar with those comics myself, it appears to me from his early POGO comics that Kelly liked the black character and thought of him as being "one of the boys", which was also supposed to have been the idea in the original OUR GANG comedies.

While complaints about the stereotyped black characters used by both Will Eisner and Walt Kelly may be seen in some accounts, there is not as much criticism of their work as there is of some of their contemporaries. This seems to be related to an adulation of their work over that of some of the other artists of that period.

*"The Spirit Am Unfair To His Assistant", Spirit story for August 17, 1941.

** Ebony beat Buckwheat into the comics, but Buckwheat was in the OUR GANG comedies before Ebony's comic adventures had begun.

OUR GANG comic books:

William Thomas ( "Buckwheat" ):


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